ENCINITAS — A class that is a huge part of San Dieguito High School Academy’s culture was canceled for the spring semester leaving students, faculty and the community with tons of questions.
Surf P.E., which began at the school back in the 1970s, was canceled due to low enrollment. Current Surf P.E. teacher Robin Etheridge said 29 students enrolled for the spring term.
“The cancellation of Surf P.E. this spring blindsided me,” Etheridge, who’s taught the course at the school for eight years, said. “I never thought that our district would support shutting (it) down. In my opinion, enrollment was not low. On paper, from an office, perhaps enrollment looked low.”
Etheridge said enrollment in the class varies from year to year and some students choose to take the class year after year. She said because of their involvement in the class, some students decide to major in ocean studies in college and some become junior lifeguards or teach surf lessons in the summer to encourage younger kids to surf.
Etheridge emphasized that she loves teaching the class and sees how deeply unique and important it is to, and for, the students.
“Student-athletes enrolled in this class have genuine respect for our ocean/beach environment,” she said. “They process the challenge of the ocean’s dynamic conditions and apply civil surf etiquette with our community surfers. They support each other and the kinship is raw and vulnerable. There’s no other class like this.”
She added that the school’s other P.E. course offerings are very limited “because of our small and very outdated facilities.”
Bob Teisher, a history teacher who previously taught Surf P.E. at San Dieguito for about a decade, said he and a lot of the students are upset the class was canceled this semester and hope it comes back.
“I was really bummed when I heard about no Surf P.E. this semester because it felt like the end of an era,” he said. “But I’ve been told it will be revived next year. Its cancellation did create a pretty vigorous movement to bring it back and that was good to see.”
Teisher said the class is important because surfing is probably better exercise than many standard P.E. classes and it’s also a hit with students.
“(The class) was basically created to pull surfers back into school rather than ditch when waves were good,” he said. “I loved being in the water with kids and it was one of the few educational experiences where both students and teacher really wanted to be there.”
San Dieguito student Matthew Naimark, who recently co-wrote an article with Ethan Davis about the cancellation of Surf P.E. for the school’s newspaper The Mustang, said students and staff are devoted to keeping the program and it is highly unlikely this course will ever be permanently removed from the curriculum.
“This last semester has been a temporary complication but the issue will be resolved,” Naimark said. “I know some students were upset because the way Surf P.E. was canceled was a bit unclear at first and very surprising. However, school faculty members did announce that the class will run if there are enough sign-ups next year, so students who are truly passionate about the class should make signs and advertise it.”
San Dieguito Academy senior Kyle Roy started an online petition at change.org to bring the class back. As of March 5, it had nearly 2,000 signatures.
“Bad move SDA Administration!” one signer, A Garcia, wrote on the petition website. “Encinitas IS A SURF TOWN! This program is a rich history of SDA! In a world where we are trying to keep students engaged, connected and interested in school, you are taking away a program that students love!!! Shame, shame on you!”
Another signer, Julie Garrido, wrote: “Surf P.E. was the only thing that got my son through high school. Without it, there would have been no reason for him to want to attend school. It’s an SDA tradition and the right of every surf kid in the school.”
Cara Dolnik, principal at Diegueño Middle School, said her school has been doing Surf P.E. for the past three years and has seen an increase in enrollment — from 35 students in the first two years to 73 students this year. She said there has been some confusion in the community that the class was also canceled at the middle school and she wanted to help dispel that myth. She said she also understood why the decision was made to cancel the class at the high school.
“High school students only need two years of P.E. in order to earn a high school diploma,” she said. “My understanding is there was another P.E. class that was running with high enrollment, so by collapsing Surf P.E., which had very low enrollment numbers and only a handful of students who needed it for their graduation requirement, they could create another General P.E. class to lessen the numbers overall.”
She said decisions like that have to be made at schools all the time “this just happened to be a class a few were passionate about.”
Regardless of why it was canceled the consensus is people just want the class back at San Dieguito Academy.
“Surf P.E. is really a vital part of who we are in Encinitas,” Teisher said. “So I hope our real Encinitas surf community backs our efforts to bring (it) back.”